02/14/2013 6:59 AM
Kenny Hook (left) working with a player at the California Winter League. (Photo by Ben Rogers/California Winter League.)
T-Bones manager Kenny Hook spent the last several weeks as an “instructor” in the California Winter League in Palm Springs. In its fourth season, the CWL has grown into an eight-team league and become a destination for players who want to get noticed by a Major League club. The instructors are either managers from one of the independent leagues or a former Major League player. This is the final installment of updates from Hook, as told to Matt Fulks.
It’s always good to get back home when you’ve been gone awhile. That’s even true when you’ve been spending six weeks in California as a baseball instructor. My time at the California Winter League was a cool experience; one that could impact our upcoming season in Kansas City. The opportunity to be around the other managers, including several from our league, and the young players was beneficial.
Our team, the Power, went into the playoffs as the number-two seed with a 10-5-1 record. Unfortunately, we lost in the first round to the seventh-seeded team, the Canada A’s, in a 1-0 game that had a total of seven hits, four for them and three for us. The A’s got their run in the top of the first inning with an infield hit and then another single, and then scored on a groundball double play. We had our chances with guys in scoring position, but we couldn’t cross the plate. That was a great game, though.
This setting was really about the players and them wanting to get better and to get noticed. I love being around players and helping them with their swing or their defensive fundamentals. The kids really took things to heart and were reaping the benefits during the month. That’s why I love to coach and manage. I like to think of myself as more of a teacher of the game.
Going into my time in California, I had hoped to sign one or two players. We ended up signing two, Marquis Riley and Devon Pearson. You’ll read more about these guys on tbonesbaseball.com in the next day or two, but both of these guys have a shot of making our team out of spring training. I don’t believe Marquis, who’s a solid hitter, struck out one time during the CWL season. He’ll be a good rookie left-handed hitter. Then, Pearson, a left-handed pitcher, has the makings of being a good bullpen specialist. Lefties in the league really struggled against him. We could see several of these players in our league this season. Grand Prairie signed five guys; Sioux City, El Paso and us each signed two; Amarillo and Laredo signed one.
It was good to be around other independent league managers. Of course there were the guys from the American Association, but also managers from the Frontier League and the United Baseball League. That could help during the season if one of those teams has a player who could help us, it’ll be easier to make a trade. And, knowing these managers now, if we have a player that I have to cut because he doesn’t fit what we’re doing, I might be able to make a connection for him with one of these other independent teams. Not to mention, this business is a lot about relationships and resources, even for managers. Knowing guys from the Frontier and United leagues gives me more resources to research prospective players.
From a learning experience, it was great to sit down at dinner with different managers and hear about their philosophies of building a club, especially under a salary cap. Turns out, even though there were times last season when I felt I was being too conservative, I found established managers take similar approaches. The camaraderie that we developed took me back to my days as a player.
I talked in a previous Kenny’s Korner about Roger Clemens spending a day with us. It’s still surreal to think I was among a small group of five guys, plus Roger and his son, at dinner one night. Seeing Roger and Koby interact was cool, but then to see the respect that Roger showed to Tim Johnson, his former manager in Toronto, was incredible. That’s something I’ll never forget.
Obviously there isn’t a barometer to know how beneficial an experience like the CWL is for managers or players. I will say that not going wouldn’t have given us any chance to reap any of these benefits, so it was a good experience. Really, it was so good that I’d go back next season, if they ask me. But it is nice to be back home with my wife and son, getting ready for the 2013 T-Bones season.